[Ppnews] A Chinese Muslim's Desperate Plea from Guantánamo

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Mar 28 19:41:42 EDT 2008


March 28, 2008

Plight of the Uyghurs

A Chinese Muslim's Desperate Plea from Guantánamo


The stories of the Uyghurs in Guantánamo -- 
Muslims from the oppressed Xinjiang province of 
China, formerly known as East Turkistan -- have 
long demonstrated chronic injustice on the part 
of the US authorities to those who know of them, 
although they have only sporadically registered on the media's radar.

Numbering 22 men in total, three were picked up 
randomly in Afghanistan, another was caught 
crossing the Pakistani border disguised in a 
burka, while the other 18 were seized together by 
opportunistic Pakistani villagers, after fleeing 
Afghanistan in the wake of the US-led invasion in 
October 2001, and sold to US forces for a bounty, 
as was common at the time. A leaflet dropped by 
US planes offered enterprising villagers and 
soldiers "millions of dollars for helping the 
anti-Taliban force catch al-Qaeda and Taliban murderers."

These 18 men, who had fled their homeland because 
of persecution, in search of a new life, or in 
the hope of gaining some sort of training to 
enable them to fight back against their 
oppressors, had been living together in a small, 
run-down hamlet in Afghanistan's Tora Bora 
mountains, mending the settlement's ruined 
buildings, and occasionally training on their only weapon, a aging AK-47.

After the US-led invasion, they were targeted in 
a US bombing raid, in which several men died. The 
survivors then made their way across the 
mountains to the Pakistani border, where they 
were first welcomed by the villagers, and then 
betrayed by them. In US custody, they attracted 
attention because of their supposed insights into 
the workings of the Chinese government, but it 
was apparent from early on that they had not been 
involved with either the Taliban or al-Qaeda, and 
that there was no reason to hold them.

Unfortunately for the Uyghurs, however, the 
declaration of their innocence only prefaced 
further problems, as they joined one of 
Guantánamo's least enviable groups: cleared 
prisoners who, because of international treaties, 
cannot be <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0745326641/counterpunchmaga>
returned to their home countries for fear that 
they will be subjected to torture, or worse. The 
US government had obligingly declared those 
opposed to Chinese rule in Xinjiang province as 
"terrorists," in order to secure support for the 
invasion of Iraq in 2003, and had even allowed -- 
or invited -- Chinese interrogators to question 
the men in Guantánamo, but when it came to 
returning them to China they refused to do so.

Attempts to persuade other countries to accept 
the Uyghurs -- and other cleared prisoners who 
faced similar problems with repatriation -- were 
both long and largely futile. Despite the fact 
that some of these men had been regarded as 
wrongly detained while they were in US-run 
prisons in Afghanistan, and that many had been 
cleared after military tribunals in Guantánamo in 
2004, it was not until May 2006 that one country 
-- Albania, one of Europe's poorest nations -- 
could be prevailed upon to accept five of the 
men, who were joined, in December 2006, by 
another three cleared prisoners from Algeria, 
Egypt and the former Soviet Union.

Living in a UN refugee camp in Tirana has not 
been without its problems -- there is no Uyghur 
community in Albania, no prospect of work, and no 
opportunity for the men to have contact with 
their families -- but it is at least better than 
being in Guantánamo, where their compatriots, who 
have, for the most part, also been cleared for 
release (the exact details are, like much else at 
Guantánamo, difficult to gauge with absolute 
confidence), remain in a limbo that seems, literally, to be without end.

Compounding their suffering, the Uyghurs, like 
the majority of the dozens of other cleared 
prisoners, are held not in comfort in Camp 4 
(Guantánamo's only block with communal dorms) but 
in Camp 6, a maximum security prison in which 
they are held in complete isolation, in metal 
cells without windows, for 22 to 23 hours a day.

One of these men is Abdulghappar, who is now 35 
years old. In 2004, he explained to his military 
tribunal that he had traveled to Afghanistan to 
"get some training to fight back against the 
Chinese government," and added that he had 
nothing against the United States. He said that 
his own people "and my own family are being 
tortured under the Chinese government," and when 
asked, "Was it your intention when you were 
training to fight against the US or its allies?" 
came up with an answer that summed up the 
feelings of all his imprisoned compatriots: "I 
have one point: a billion Chinese enemies, that 
is enough for me. Why would I get more enemies?"

Abdulghappar recently wrote a letter to his 
lawyers, which was declassified by the military 
censors who review all correspondence between 
lawyers and their clients. It was then passed to 
the Associated Press, who quoted parts of the 
letter in an article last week, which was then 
picked up by other media outlets.

In the hope of providing Abdulghappar with more 
of his own voice, however, I asked his lawyers 
for a copy of the letter, which I reproduce in 
its entirety below. As it is a translation, I 
have taken the liberty of editing the language to 
convey his message more fully.

Abdulghappar's letter from Guantánamo

How are you, Mr. J. Wells Dixon and Ms. Seema 
Saifee? I hope that this letter reaches you 
before you come over, and I hope that it will be 
a little beneficial for our Turkistani brothers' situation here.

We, the Turkistani brothers, left our homeland in 
order to escape from the brutal suppression and 
unfair treatment from the Chinese government 
towards our people. The Uyghur youth back home 
were either incarcerated because of false 
accusations or prosecuted and executed because of 
bogus allegations. It was extremely difficult for 
any Uyghur to see a future for themselves within 
our homeland, and both young and middle-aged 
Uyghurs started to leave East Turkistan and try 
to find survival abroad, if anyone could find a 
way to get out. We, the Uyghurs in Guantánamo, 
are also like those Uyghurs. We left our homeland 
for the same cause and sought solace in our neighboring countries.

As you know, for some specific reasons we ended 
up in Afghanistan. When we arrived in 
Afghanistan, the US army invaded. We had to 
depart for Pakistan, since we could not stay in 
Afghanistan. As we did not know anyone who could 
help us there, we had no other choice but to 
leave. The Pakistani people then arrested us and 
turned us over to the Pakistani government. 
Subsequently, the Pakistani government sold us to 
the US army for bounties. The US army then brought us to Guantánamo.

Since the very beginning of the interrogations, 
we have been saying this. Our circumstances are 
very clear to the US government, the US army and 
related agencies. Thus, the East Turkistani 
people and we, the Uyghurs in Guantánamo, have 
never had any revulsion against the US at any 
time, and this would never be possible, because 
our homeland is being occupied and we need the help of others.

We were very pleased at the beginning when the 
Pakistanis turned us over to American custody. We 
sincerely hoped that America would be sympathetic 
to us and help us. Unfortunately, the facts were 
different. Although in 2004 and 2005 we were told 
that we were innocent, we have been incarcerated 
in jail for the past six years until the present 
day. We fail to know why we are still in jail here.

We still hope that the US government will free us 
soon and send us to a safe place. Being away from 
family, away from our homeland, and also away 
from the outside world and losing any contact 
with anyone is not suitable for a human being, 
as, also, is being forbidden from experiencing 
natural sunlight and natural air, and being 
surrounded by a metal box on all sides.

I was very healthy in the past. However, since I 
was brought to Camp 6, I got rheumatism. My 
joints started to hurt all the time and are 
getting worse. My kidneys started to hurt ten days ago.

My countryman Abdulrazaq used to have rheumatism 
for a while, and since he came to Camp 6 it got 
worse. Sometime in early August, the US army told 
Abdulrazaq that he was cleared to be released, 
and also issued the release form to him in 
writing. As a result, Abdulrazaq requested to 
move to a camp that had better conditions, for 
health reasons. When his request was ignored he 
embarked on a hunger strike, which has lasted for over a month now.

Currently, he is on punishment and his situation 
is even worse. He is shackled to the restraint 
chair and force-fed twice a day by the guards, 
who wear glass shields on their faces. This has 
taken place for the past 20 days. For someone who 
has not eaten for a long time, such treatment is 
not humane. Abdulrazaq would never want to go on 
hunger strike. However, the circumstances here 
forced him to do so, as he had no other choice. 
If the oppression was not unbearable, who would 
want to throw himself on a burning fire? In the 
US constitution, is it a crime for someone to ask 
to protect his health and to ask for his rights? 
If it does count as a crime, then what is the 
difference between the US constitution and the 
Communist constitution? What is the difference 
between this and Hitler's policies during the Second World War?

I have heard that an Egyptian man broke his back 
and became handicapped while he was being handled 
by a team in Camp 1 or 2, and then he was sent 
home as a crippled person for the rest of his 
life [Sami El-Leithi, released in October 2005]. 
Another Libyan broke his arm also. I worry that 
Abdulrazaq will face a similar or worse situation 
while being force fed twice a day for a long 
time, and I am also concerned for his 
psychological condition as it is extremely 
difficult for him to keep his mental state normal under such circumstances.

Recently, I started to wonder, "why are we 
staying in this jail for so long?" I wonder if we 
will be released after we damage our internal and 
external organs and our arms and legs. Or is it 
necessary for a few Turkistanis to die, as 
happened in the past here in this jail, in order 
to gain others' attention and their concern 
towards our matter? Such thoughts are in my mind 
all the time. The reason I am writing this letter 
to you is that I sincerely hope that you and 
others related to law and enforcement can solve 
this issue quickly and help us in a practical manner.

Abdulghappar Turkistani (281)
December 12, 2007.
Guantánamo Bay jail, Camp 6.

Andy Worthington 
is a British historian, and the author of 
Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 
Detainees in America's Illegal Prison'. He can be 
reached at: <mailto:andy at andyworthington.co.uk>andy at andyworthington.co.uk

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